Americans of all political stripes were glued to our television sets during last month’s epic fight by California Republican Kevin McCarthy to fulfill his long-held dream of becoming Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It took the better part of a week and 15 rounds of voting with unknown concessions to right-wing representatives, but McCarthy finally dragged himself over the finish line.
It remains to be seen what his overriding desire has cost him and the American people.
That said, the whole process was riveting, because Americans have never seen anything like it unless we happen to be in the House gallery, where most of us have never been.
Since there was no Speaker, no Chamber rules had been adopted. C-Span, a nonprofit network that airs various government proceedings, including what happens in Congress, was unconstrained in showing us what was really going on, the process of legislative sausage making.
We saw Congressional parents babysitting their children on the House floor, liberal AOC of New York conversing with a House member from Arizona who once posted a cartoon of himself murdering her. We saw Democratic and Republican members conversing pleasantly, and we witnessed a fist fight on the verge of happening between a McCarthy supporter and a McCarthy opponent.
Our own North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson, himself a Republican, grabbed his aggressive colleague by the chin and held him back, averting actual fisticuffs.
My personal favorite part was newly elected and newly disgraced New York Congressman George Santos not responding to the House clerk calling out his name for a vote — if Santos is indeed his real name since he did not seem to recognize it at all.
The whole thing was quite a show, and Americans loved seeing the real action, not the sanitized version.
Under normal House rules made by both Democrats and Republicans and in effect now that there is a Speaker, C-Span is limited to showing the rostrum, member orating on the floor, and panoramic views of the House with people walking around.
Getting to see what really goes on has, historically, been an electrifying treat available only to those actually present. But now that we have seen it, we want more. Think “how ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree?”
To that end, Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) plans legislation to allow just that, saying “one of the features of the new Congress that made this debate so compelling was the fact that cameras recording the U.S. House of Representatives were free to broadcast the full Chamber during votes and debates.”
Good for him! Americans should be able to see their elected officials at work, even when they are making sausage. And while Democrats had a difficult time keeping the smiles off their lips during the days-long Republican Speaker voting, rest assured that the glare of public sunshine could and will cut both ways, and both parties will eventually embarrass themselves if C-Span’s cameras are allowed to let the sunshine in.
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, our own House of Representatives is apparently trying to pull a fast one. Republicans have adopted House rules that do not require advance notice of veto override votes. This means that should someone, likely a Democrat who supports the Governor’s veto on a piece of legislation, step out of the House chamber even for a necessary bathroom break, the Speaker could call for a veto override vote immediately, and that would be that — fair or not.
Yet another argument for transparency in government, including allowing Americans to see the sausage getting made — blood, gore and all.